Are Our Kids Learning Too Much, Too Soon?

My son is learning what an imperative verb is at school this week. He is five. I am at a loss as to why he needs to know this when he is still getting the hang of the whole reading and writing thing.  But then I still don’t quite understand why he needs homework or to sit an exam next year.

Given that he is ahead of the game compared to some of his European peers by being in school right now, does he really need to know about the technical terms for our complex grammar? I hope that at this age the only thing he is deconstructing is building blocks and not sentences but evidently not.

In our drive to make kids smarter, faster, stronger, are we forgetting that our children are, well, children?  Surely it is better for children to enjoy learning about the world around them at this age than have them know that a sentence is made up from a verb, noun and adjective?

Knowing how to write a grammatically correct sentence shouldn’t matter at this stage as much as letting children play with words to create the stories that exist in their imagination. Roald Dahl taught us that with his experimentation in language in his hugely popular children’s books. The BFG doesn’t speak in grammatically perfect sentences and a child listening to or reading that story would understand that it doesn’t sound right without needing to know why it doesn’t. The fact that they know and are enjoying a book should be enough right now.

My worry is that by pushing our children this hard we are stymying their creativity and enjoyment of learning. By not just letting them read, write and invent we are setting them up to see education as a chore. Something that is there to be endured, learn the rules, pass the test, move on. Our children are not units to download information onto but what they are expected to learn at such a young age is unbelievable.

If you think I am wrong, how many of you had to Google what an imperative verb was at the start of this post?

 

How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit – A Sort of Review

HaveABabyMy good friend and excellent blogger over at Eeh Bah Mum has only gone and written a blooming fantastic book. Yes this is not really a review because  a. know the writer and b. I get a mention on page 2 (plus elsewhere but why spoil the plot for you?). Although I am going to review it because today I finished the book on the train whilst simultaneously laughing and crying.

Kirsty has always been one of the mums I’ve held in high esteem for just making it all look so easy, natural and being a normal human being at the same time. When I would return her daughter from a particularly disastrous walk, covered head to toe in mud, she’d be there with a coffee on offer and a funny story from earlier in the week to counter it. I figured she’d just got the whole ‘being a mum thing’ instantly and calmly got on with it. Instead, the book tells a different side, a touching and honest side that every single mum and mum-to-be should read. If only to know that no one just ‘gets it’ however much it looks like they do from the outside.

I first met Kirsty at the wedding of mutual friends around 4 years ago. We found ourselves getting drunk over nice food while our respective children caused some manner of chaos around the room. Being from Yorkshire, it is vital that you announce such a fact when meeting new people at places like weddings and we therefore figured out that not only were we from the same place in Yorkshire, had kids but we also lived on the next street to each other in North London. A friendship was formed.

I don’t particularly need much in a friendship; the ability to see the funny side of things and a willingness to go to the pub will do. As one of the funniest women I know and her London leaving drinks being up there in the top nights out list, Kirsty has made a pretty solid friend over the years. She has given me sterling advice about second kids, relocating and doing the 30 Day Shred with a newborn. Had I listened to her at the time, I could have saved myself a lot of crying about why my 4 month old won’t sleep long enough to let me work out; why for the past year I have felt like I am losing the plot because the first 6 months of a second child is a false sense of security; and I wouldn’t have spent the past year desperately trying to win the lottery so I could return to North London.

But I didn’t. Instead I read the same wonderful, funny outlook on motherhood in her book while kicking myself for being an idiot. I knew she talked sense when she was telling me it, I was just too wrapped up in baby world and sleep deprivation to remember.

How To Have A Baby isn’t just a funny, honest account of parenting though, it is more than that. It lays bare how having kids challenges you and how you view yourself as a person. Kirsty manages to voice the thoughts that went through my head about kids before I had them, about careers once they do arrive and also nails the first post-child hangover with alarming accuracy.

This is not your usual, ‘how to raise your kids’ book. The advice is simple: chill out and make friends. Something you don’t find in the wall of other baby books telling you about routines, naps, development, and all the other stuff that won’t necessarily apply to your baby because someone forgot to tell your baby to read the book. So in the truest sense, this is a book about how to be a parent and not how to look after a baby or raise a child.

I do wish I had read this book when I was pregnant with my first child. It probably wouldn’t have saved me from new mum craziness but it would have helped me realise I wasn’t on my own. Heck, I needed this book a year ago when I was struggling with two kids in a new place and then I wouldn’t have felt the need to drunkenly apologise to half the mums at the playgroup night out for being an emotional wreck when I first met them. But it is here now, in our lives and will be the gift I give to all new mums.

You can buy the book here.

Should I share my bed?

This morning I appeared on Good Morning Britain as a vox pop about shared-sleeping. I love shared-sleeping and wished I could have spoken for longer about how wonderful it is but I had about 30 seconds at 6am which was aired at 8am. I do not operate at the best mental capacity at 6am for anything.

Shared sleeping is often bagged into one of those attachment parenting things. I hate labeling parenting as anything other than parenting so I see it as once of those getting a good nights sleep things.

It isn’t just about my energy levels the next day but about what is best for my children. They have lived inside of me for 9 months and that separation process is a slow one. They will be more confident and happier to sleep on their own if they’ve been kept close for the first few months.

There are risks involved in shared sleeping as much as there is with anything to do with a little person who relies on you for everything. These are common sense things such as not drinking, not taking medication, moving pillows and duvets away. I never share the bed with either of my children if one of us are drunk, it is simply not safe and that is very obvious. As I am breast feeding, I don’t drink very much these days any way.

The positives though are that you get a great bond with your child, they transition to their own room better in their own time, you can respond to their cues instantly and you have the energy to meet your children’s needs the next day.

We have a lovely set up in our room, which makes shared sleeping very safe and sadly this didn’t get the chance to be expressed on TV this morning. The cot has one side down and is up against our bed so while my daughter is in arms reach and contact with me throughout the night, she also has her own sleeping space.

This works wonderfully until about 1am when she gets a feed at which point she decides that 6 inch gap between us is too much and needs cuddles. I can do so without the tears of transferring her back to the bed or risking her safety.

I always wondered why I never really rocked or bounced my children to sleep as I have known others to do and it’s because they have been allowed to get the comfort they need through the night and know that I will be right there.

It hasn’t been a easy road to this confidence about shared sleeping. When I had my first son I was told I would smother him or make a rod for my own back. It didn’t take long to realise that ‘make a rod for my own back’ was often said through sucked teeth and really meant “you’re doing something that I don’t like with your child”. In this case I was told how we would never get him out of our bed, that my husband would hate shared sleeping and I would regret it.

The opposite was true. My son went into his own room at around 1 year old and there he has stayed. It has been commented on how well he goes to bed and how happy he is there. When discussing my husband’s thoughts yesterday, as I had until now not actually asked him his thoughts because it just seemed so natural and normal to both of us, he said he felt a stronger bond to the children and it was great that no one else was woken by the night feeds. So it is fair to say he is very supportive of sharing the bed.

In fact, some of our nicest mornings are when my son wakes and comes and crawls into bed with us. We have four in a bed and some wonderful family memories.

***

The safety of home birth was in the news again today. I will be later comparing my experiences of home vs hospital from both my lovely births.

The London Coffee Festival

 

Coffee

Coffee and motherhood go together like wine and Friday night; one could not comfortably exist without the other. So, when coffee is needed to get through the day, without waking from an accidental nap to find every surface of the living room covered in red pen, you quickly come to appreciate good coffee and what makes a great coffee shop.

So, an outing to the London Coffee Festival to celebrate all things coffee-related was a welcomed experience this weekend at the Truman Brewery. The trade show opened on Thursday evening and to the public yesterday. Today was the first full public day and it continues on into the weekend.

It is not just about the coffee, although finding new great coffee products was a clear high light, there was also a lot of tea, chocolate, talks and music with samples to keep you going. The queue stretched half way down Brick Lane before opening time; coffee appreciation is taken very seriously in London with both parents and the care-free alike. It was good to see so many little people in there, expressing their love of the babyccino or ‘hot milk’ for the rest of us.

LCF_PressImage_CoffeeFestival2013_Day4__LowRes-88Some of the highlights were the Volcano Coffee Works, who put a lot of care and thought into every stage of their coffee-making process, which clearly comes through with the taste. The Roasting Party were as good as their name, affable people passionate about their products. An intriguing concept was Grower’s Cup; great tea or coffee in a pouch that you add water to and pour. Pretty smart for being out and about while not wanting to compromise on your beverage quality.

Alpro were offering out vegan coffee and porridge, which was damn tasting and a good respite from the flurry of free espresso shots from the rest of the show. Vegan soft-drinks brand Fritz-Kola were also offering out samples of their drinks. High caffeine content and Mischmasch being pegged as a great hangover cure. Coming from Hamburg, it is probably a trustworthy claim. Mischmasch was damn tasty mix of cola, lemon and orange.

LCF_PressImage_DCS2409Tea was well represented there as well. Tea Pigs are always reliable on flavours but London Tea Company does some wonderful blends. Personally, I am addicted to their Vanilla Chai. Tea discovery of the day goes to Brew Tea Co who really nailed good old builders tea and had these great little Brew Cards to ensure no one gets your tea preference wrong again.

However, the nicest stall of the day and my favourite find was Jaz and Juls Drinking Chocolate. It can be a tricky thing finding great vegan drinking chocolate but this brand doesn’t put powdered milk into the blend and it was superb. It is organic, ethical and run by two lovely women who were really passionate and engaged about what they were doing; a total inspiration and making great hot chocolate too.

It would be amiss to not point out the sofas and chairs dotted by the stage made from reclaimed wood. The pallet sofa was surprisingly comfortable and looked damn good too.

There was plenty of beer, whiskey and coffee-related cocktail tasting going on too but being pregnant, I cannot really comment on these. Downstairs was the coffee-lifestyle room: designers, accessories, pop up cafe and furniture sellers who are synonymous with East London and knowing where to get your good coffee from. It’s not just about the drink anymore. London Coffee Festival was an intriguing day out with wonderful discoveries made. Expect some more to come on the wonderful Jaz and Juls Chocolate.

The London Coffee Festival continues throughout the weekend at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.

How to get your kids to eat their greens.

Is a question that I imagine has some manner of complex equation to figure out what food they will eat at any particular meal time. Something along the lines of:

colour + texture / nutritional value x effort taken to cook to the power of times eaten before = bollocks all chance of them eating it at any given time.

But there is one question at meal times that bugs me the most: “do you think he will eat it?”

“Well, no. Not now you have given him the idea he has some sort of choice in this.”

Personally, I have completely given up my child’s tastes and trying to accommodate them into a meal. Unless it is fish fingers, he changes his mind on a daily, if not hourly basis. What could be the favourite food of one day will get rejected with disdain the next. I am going for the hard-line approach of ‘here is your meal. Eat it, don’t eat it. There is nothing else and I will eat mine.’ His tuna was once fed to the cats because he called my bluff and failed.

At Christmas my parents were amazed that I was even bothering to put brussel sprouts in front of him. ‘He’ll never eat those’ they declared. ‘No idea if he will or will not but let’s not give him the idea they are not for eating, shall we?’ Yep he ate them. For almost a month we had him eating brussel sprouts in various forms but most often in the catch-all risotto. That child would eat anything in a risotto. Although present them to him now and he wouldn’t touch them covered in even the most tasty ketchup or even chocolate.

He went through a phase of only eating frozen peas and raw mushrooms. If they were cooked, he turned his nose up. This may have coincided with a bump to the head and playing doctor before eating said peas was the most fun he had all day with his toys. Whatever, he was getting greens.

Children will merrily eat crap off floors, playdoh, tissues and lick a bus window but when it comes to eating actual, cooked, healthy food it is a battle zone.  How to get your kids to eat greens? I haven’t got a clue but eating together has made for happier meal times even if half is left for tomorrow.

Things You Don’t Expect When You’re Expecting.

I spent my first pregnancy reveling in its blissful magic. I glowed and was amazed by everything that was happening. My husband and I followed the progress with online apps  religiously, setting dates in our diaries for the next progress stage video. Second time around this is definitely not the case. In my mind, pregnancy was a wonderful thing to be treasured and my son would hug and kiss my bump while telling his unborn sibling stories about his day. Here is what I did not expect.

1. To be simultaneously kicked from both the inside and outside.

There is a party in my womb between the hours of midnight and 4 and, like irritating neighbours having a garden rave, I am not going to get any sleep while it is going on. Second pregnancy is making me hyper-aware of the night time movements anyway. What I did not expect was that having a 3 year old in the bed due to a house guest would mean getting kicked from both sides for 8 hours solid, often at the same time. I am not sure which is more preferable, dislodging a heel from my eye socket at 2am or kicked in the bladder for an hour making me feel like I need a wee, when I do not for the whole night.

2. Climbing the Soft Play Mountain.

Six months into my first pregnancy I very proudly climbed a mountain in Spain. Sure it had steps and hand rails but  I did it, rather than get a bus to the top with all the old folks. Woe betide my husband when he tells people it was less of a mountain and more of a ‘rocky outcrop’. What I did not expect to be doing this time around was sliding my bump through a snaking ladder of soft play centre made to fit a 2-6 year old around and not a 30 year old pregnant woman. My son decided to take the steepest slide into the ball pool that even my husband said was a pain in the coccyx and ‘Mummy has to come too’. I could even see from the peak that my coffee was going cold and my magazine unread.

castle of santa barbara clowntown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Using my bump as a lever.

First time, I wished for a cattle prod to keep people at a half-metre radius from my bump. Second time the bump is instead used to lever my son into and onto various places as he is now too heavy to lift. The bath tub and various walls to walk on being most popular. It has a great second use pivoting him up into the air that I was not expecting.

4. To not give a crap about the ‘rules’.

Pregnant women are not allowed to do anything fun in the slightest. Rollercoasters, petting zoos, drinking, and gardening are apparently all risky and should be avoided. Caffeine is also outlawed in normal amounts. At your most tired, when you could do with a coffee drip you are advised to limit your intake. Yeah sod that. The best day of my pregnancy so far has been hopped up on at least 5 cups of tea and coffee plus copious amounts of cake. I managed to get the boy to a toddler party, charge around doing the shopping and still find energy to dance around my living room to some probably inappropriate music while teaching my son the lyrics. This is not a normal day. A normal 3 cup-limit day consists of me passing out on the boy’s bed whilst trying to encourage a nap while he climbs over me and destroys the flat for an hour before getting bored and throwing books at my head to wake me up.

I have also been having pretty much every negative side-effect possible of pregnancy. This all seemed to resolve itself when I resolved to have a glass of wine. The up side is that because I am only having a glass, I had better make it a really good glass.

5. To spend most of pregnancy in a semi-crouched position.

First pregnancy was spent in the sitting on the couch position, second pregnancy in the ‘clearing up toys’ position. I am sure I had 6 months of back problems last time around from sitting at work on a chair older than time itself. This time, in spite of spending most of my day collecting things off the floor from standing, not even a twinge. If you see me walking down the street looking like I am impersonating the missing link, you’ll know I got stuck in that position.

Kings Cross Shuffle

When planning a day trip in London for the wee people, it’s normally best to check that the destination you’re aiming for is actually open on the day you visit. Unlike me who just assumes that everything across London is open pretty much year round. Not the case when I arrived at the Canal Museum today to find it is closed on all Mondays that are not Bank Holidays. I take it as a sign that I am destined to never visit the place. We used to live nearby and never made it despite numerous attempts that tended to end up in pub crawls as those were pre-child days.

Thankfully, Kings Cross has a hub of places to entertain kids so we pottered down to the nearby VX to grab some food for a picnic. Even if you’re not vegan, this place is worth stopping by for some tasty goods if you’re in the area. It’s a small place, not good for prams but very welcoming. There used to be a short cut through the back of Kings Cross Station to our next destination, Camley Street Nature Park, but the ongoing gentrification of the area meant that was cut off and we had to schlep around St Pancras past all the building sites. This was pretty much the highlight of my son’s morning as he looked on in awe at all the diggers, cranes and dumper trucks in full swing.

ponds We had our scran by the ponds and then went and lay belly-flat looking out for dragon-fly and tadpoles. None were forthcoming so onwards we walked around the park. It’s best to either not take the buggy or leave it by the volunteers hut.

When I first visited Camley Street  many years ago, it was a eden of tranquility. Sadly, all the ongoing works around the park have massive amounts noise pollution seeping through. Not so good for listening to the bird song under the biodome, but not a problem for a toddler who wanted to name each sound.

wild flowersWe did have great fun following the trails and trying to spot beetles, bees, birds and bats. The place is well thought out and sign posted for things to look out for and hints to find them. It would probably have more of an air of tranquility on a weekend but then that would have taken away part of the fun for the boy.

Guess the beastie game

Our plan after this was to head for Corams Fields but the heavens opened and so we headed home to hunker down away from the wet until Summer deigns us with its presence once more.